“Ajma!”

It’s one of those Maltese interjections that are frustratingly impossible to translate accurately into the English language.  Not only. Even in our own language, it takes on a myriad of meanings, depending upon the tone in which it is expressed.   One could say that, in its simplest form, spoken in staccato, the word “ajma” is exclaimed as an instant reaction to physical pain – “ouch, it hurts”.  But there is so much more to the word than just that.  Spoken with a long ‘j’ sound, it expresses contempt – “U ajjjma, who does she think she is” – almost as if one is scorning the other person.  A long ‘a’ at the end of the word alters its meaning, to express displeasure – “ajmaaa hej, look who’s coming” – to announce the arrival of disagreeable company.   Yet for the purposes of this article, I wish to focus upon one very particular articulation of “ajma “.  When the accent falls on the first ‘a’, the word is uttered either as a sigh of relief, as a form of release from an intolerable burden; or in a more pessimistic form, it expresses insupportable anguish or grief – “ajma, I cannot bear to live like this much longer”.

How many times have we found ourselves in a situation that we simply cannot tolerate, or facing a particularly difficult state of affairs, only to find momentary relief in articulating this short, but so heavily-loaded interjection – “ajma”.  At Eastertime, as a Catholic, I find myself pondering over the idea that, if Jesus were Maltese, he could have easily drawn upon this word to express all the pain – both emotional and physical – that he felt in his last moments of suffering on Good Friday.  In our human condition, we all face such moments in our life, moments which, mercifully, are sometimes fleeting, but others which we are compelled to endure for much longer.  Yet, it is mostly at our own discretion how we withstand these trying circumstances.

On the one hand, we can choose to say “ajma, it hurts uffa” (another untranslatable interjection!) and withdraw with resignation into our shell; or worse still, complain to all and sundry about how difficult life our life is at that moment in time. On the other hand, we can acknowledge that “yes, it is difficult” but choose to transcend that suffering by looking at our existence as a blessing, by trying to focus upon the positive aspects of our life.  Transcending suffering does not mean that no suffering is present; rather in the midst of our anguish, we need to acknowledge that the situation is indeed challenging and painful, but it is an experience that has a great value.  

To transcend suffering, we cannot afford to judge or make logical sense of our painful feelings or our emotions, but rather, just be totally present with them and accept them as part and parcel of human existence.  As human beings, we are used to resisting or thinking our way out of negative emotional states; or we try to distract ourselves with other more pleasant diversions, such as food, the social media or other people’s company.  But it is better to create a space in which we ‘befriend’ our pain and identify with it.  This will eventually lead us to be at peace with the circumstances as they actually are, not as we wish them to be.  Once we accept our pain, then we will be able to ‘offer it up’ as an expression of our love for others.  We will be able to attribute a value to our suffering which transcends the actual pain.  As a result, we will enhance our positive attributes such as kindness and compassion, rather than focusing inwardly on our grief and suffering.

I must admit that I have struggled greatly with the question of suffering throughout my own life (and I still do at times), and I used to be very angry about any sort of distress which seems to ail most people at some time or another in their lives. But the more I began to understand the value of suffering that is offered up for a greater glory, the more I began to appreciate its awesome and true value (for example, our afflictions can be strengthening, developing and moulding us for something greater that we must do later on in life), and I gradually opened myself up to suffering as an experience which enables me to be a stronger and better person, kinder and more compassionate towards the pain of others.   

Particularly during the Easter Season, which will end on Pentecost Sunday, I augur that all those readers who may be passing through times of tribulation may begin to understand suffering in the light of the full picture, and that together with Jesus Christ, be empowered to suffer their trials with a sense of peace, in order that, they too may reap the fruits of their suffering on the day of glory.

This article was first published by Times of Malta.

Christine Galea studied at the University of Malta, where she obtained a Master of Arts in Family Ministry in 2012. She is the Secretary-General of the Cana Movement and teaches Theology of Marriage and the Family at the Institute of Pastoral Formation. Christine is also a Board member of Genesis2 – Institute for Marriage and the Family, which promotes reflection about the person, marriage and family from several perspectives, through training, witness and peer support.

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